St Helens Council spent thousands of pounds after Local Plan letter 'confusion'

The council had to send an additional 6,382 letters at a cost of 3,629.
The council had to send an additional 6,382 letters at a cost of 3,629.

Thousands of pounds were spent sending additional letters about the St Helens Local Plan after the first batch failed to provide crucial information.

In January, residents across the borough received a letter with information about the submission draft of the Local Plan, which is currently open for representations.

The letter informed residents they lived near to a site or multiple sites that had been identified for development, including homes, factories and warehouses.

However, some of these sites are safeguarded and the letters failed to mention this or adequately explain what safeguarded sites actually are.

Safeguarded land are sites that are earmarked for development and removed from the green belt but protected throughout the 15-year period the Local Plan covers.

After the first batch of letters went out numerous councillors raised concerns, including Labour’s David Baines, as they feared they could cause confusion and unease with residents.

The council then sent thousands of additional letters to residents to clarify the issue, as well as to apologise for any “confusion”.

A freedom of information request has now revealed the council had to send an additional 6,382 letters at a cost of £3,629.

This was in addition to the 9,801 letters sent just 10 days earlier at a cost of £8,657.

The letters were funded through the council’s development plans budget.

After learning the cost of the mistake, St Helens Conservative group leader, Allan Jones, accused the Labour-run council of “wasting money”.

Coun Jones said: “Once again the inefficiencies of this Labour council has wasted money. Get it right in the future.”

St Helens Council said the decision was taken to send the additional letters as it recognised it had not been made clear what safeguarded land actually is.

A council spokesman said: “We want to make sure residents are aware of our St Helens borough Local Plan, which will help to shape the future development of our borough and have the opportunity to tell us what they think.

“To do this we have held a range of public engagement sessions. We have also written letters to those living close to areas proposed to be safeguarded for potential future development after 2035.

“This is in addition to letters sent to residents living close to areas to be allocated for development before then.

“It’s important that our residents understand our plans and we recognised we had not made it clear what safeguarded land is, so we decided to send a second letter clarifying this to some households.

“Although this did require an additional cost, we believe it is vital that residents are kept fully informed throughout this process.”